Traveling the holiday roads with young children

Making long drives easier on the kids with these tips.

There are many ways to keep children occupied in the car when traveling for more than a few minutes.
There are many ways to keep children occupied in the car when traveling for more than a few minutes.

It happens sooner or later. You come to the moment when you are taking the first big car ride with your young child or children. You may be traveling across town, to another state or a location just a few hours away. Are you truly ready to travel that long distance with a young child that doesn’t want to be confined to a car seat? Have you thought to yourself, “How am I going to keep them entertained until we reach our destination?” Fear not, every parent has the same concern as to how they are going to make a long journey without getting their child overly tired, anxious or frustrated.

Before you even begin to think about hopping into the car for that long ride, you need to take some time to explain where you are going, who you are going to see and what your expectations are for behaviors in the car. You may discuss what the child is allowed to bring with them and if electronics are allowed to be used. Not every trip needs to have the portable DVD player, tablet or video game brought along; save those for the longer, more boring rides. Help your child choose small toys, books, coloring pages and favorite stuffed animals to bring along with them. Having small activities to do along the way will help young children stay focused and entertained when they begin to get antsy in their car seats, especially if they get the choice of when they can do the activities.

There are many ways to keep children occupied in the car when traveling for more than a few minutes. Thinking about the child, make sure to take some of the small things they really love to spend time with. Help them choose some small toys to bring along that don’t make a lot of noise or flash a lot of light. Being able to manipulate toys helps a child focus on what they are playing with rather than where they are at in the car.

Bringing a few of their favorite books is also a great place to start. Bring a good handful of books for them to choose from and think about taking a couple of books you have memorized so you can recite the story to them while they look at the pictures. Notimeforflashcards has a great list of 25 books about cars and trucks.

Coloring books are another great activity for traveling. Coloring is a very active way for children to express themselves and use their fine motor skills to keep their minds occupied when things outside of the car windows start to look the same. It is also great fun for everyone on the ride to play games such as “I Spy” and “I’m thinking of an animal.” On a long trip, you may also want to give healthy snacks and treats every hour or so as rewards for making it just a little closer to your destination.

Before traveling, it is a great idea to share your rules and expectations for using media in the car. If you choose to bring electronics such as DVD players, tablets, iPhones or other portable devices, you will need to set the ground rules for usage with your child. Make sure you are OK with any electronics they may choose to bring. You don’t want to get into an argument an hour down the road over something you wished you had never allowed them to bring.

When using tablets or phones, make sure they are uploaded with appropriate apps that are educational and fun. You may also want to have apps available that can be muted or turned down low in case there are any issues with headphones. Yes, don’t forget to bring headphones that can be turned down low enough to not harm or bother your child’s hearing. Free apps for children may be found at sites such as Family Education and Common Sense Media.

Set your limits before getting in the car for the amount of time they are allowed to use their portable devices. You may only want to let them use their tablet for 20 minutes at a time or to only watch one video on the DVD player every couple of hours. It is always better for children to have hands-on materials to play with, books and small toys, rather than spending all of their time using electronics or staring at a screen.

No matter what you allow your children to take with them in the car, always make sure you are OK with their choices and that what they choose will not bother the person who is driving. The first goal of travelling is to always make it to your destination safely. It is OK to inform your children of what behaviors you expect from them, especially when in the car. Sometimes you may have to remind them of the privilege for having tablets, phones or DVD players while traveling. While they can earn more time using their technology, they can also lose that time by choosing to act out. When you let children know what behaviors you expect, they will have a much easier time making choices that benefit all who are travelling together. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following resources, which offer more ideas about traveling with young children.

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